Today, our Indie Press Corner series continues with an interview with publishing powerhouse Coffee House Press. Thank you to publisher Chris Fischbach for taking the time to correspond with us.
We put a lot of emphasis on strong relationships with indie booksellers. We get to know them, their tastes, and be sure that they get very early copies of the books, since they are literature’s greatest advocates.
We are longtime fans of Coffee House Press here at The Masters Review and we have been fortunate to review many Coffee House titles. You publish debuts by authors like Gabe Habash and Lincoln Michel alongside books by established authors such as Brian Evenson and Kate Bernheimer. I would love to know a little about your selection process. What makes a manuscript stand out to you? How do you, ultimately, select which manuscripts to publish?
The final decision is up to me, as publisher and artistic director. Erika Stevens, our poetry editor, is someone we rely on to bring new poets forward for the list. And Lizzie Davis, our other main editor, part of her job is to go through all the manuscripts we have and bring suggestions forward as well (Lizzie also is fluent in Spanish, so reads all the Latin American submissions). She works closely with our publishing assistant Annemarie Eayrs, who works closely with interns and readers to go through the hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts we receive each year.
This isn’t always the case, but it often is: that when we’re reading something that we’re going to accept, there is a point where we can’t imagine anyone else publishing it. Then we know it’s a Coffee House Press book.
What is your editorial process like?
I can’t imagine it’s very different than any other press our size. At least I know we don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Well, I guess one thing that your readers might find interesting is that when I’m working on either a collection of poems or a collection of short stories, I place each poem / story out on our conference table so I can visualize the collection spatially. That’s the best way I know how to find a good order for the collection.
One of the things I really admire about Coffee House is how many incredibly successful debuts you have published—books like A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride and Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash. What is unique about working with authors who are being published for the first time? How do you market their work?
The publishing world loves debuts! It’s actually easier sometimes to get attention for debuts than for second or third books. But thank you! We put a lot of emphasis on strong relationships with indie booksellers. We get to know them, their tastes, and be sure that they get very early copies of the books, since they are literature’s greatest advocates. I think, also, that there is something of a snowball effect, as well. Once you start to get known for great debuts, people look to our list for those debuts, and authors and agents want to place books with us because they know we can do a great job with a debut book.
What is one of your favorite things about being an indie press?
That we get to make decisions based soley on artistic quality and risk.
What are some of your favorite other indie presses?
There are so many! The Dorothy Project, Transit, Two Lines, Open Letter, Graywolf, Deep Vellum, Archipelago, Song Cave, Coach House, And Other Stories, Fitzcarraldo–I could go on, but that’s a start.
What cool new things can we expect to see from Coffee House Press soon?
There’s a debut novel that Lizzie just acquired that’s incredible, by Poupeh Missaghi. Our first non-Latin American translation since we started getting big into translation—a memoir by Naja Marie Aidt. Poetry by Ladan Osman. Another debut novel—by the superstar bookseller Mark Haber from Brazos in Houston. And many more!